I'm old enough to be wary of devices that claim to be cure-alls for making audio sound good. Processing devices, such as Aphex's Aural Exciter and BBE's Sonic Maximizer, abounded in the '80s, but most of the time I found the supposed sonic benefits of these devices to be far outweighed by how they would also destroy a signal's integrity. I am skeptical of anything that claims to improve clarity and detail of a sound source, but I've fully fallen for Gullfoss, an "intelligent automatic equalizer" plug-in. Quite simply, this EQ examines the audio, and 300 times per second adjusts the sound. The parameters it changes have more to do with time-based frequency buildups than a typical EQ's set-and-forget format. The interface here has simply five main controls; in fact, on my first use I couldn't even figure out how to make anything happen, as everything is set to neutral and the audio passes through unaffected. Once I started nudging the controls around, and really listening, it all began to make sense. The Recover control brings parts of the sound spectrum that are in the background to the fore. Think of the nuances of an upright bassist, where you might hear mostly the booming notes and less of the articulation. Speaking of that, the Tame control allows you to make the EQ look for dominant frequencies and reduce them. Imagine your EQ pulling the dominant 100 Hz boom of an upright down automatically when the low tone appeared, plus reducing the main note and harmonics above it when needed. The Bias control allows the user to favor the Recover or Tame functions, but I would have preferred that the Bias adjustment be an always visible left/right slider between Restore and Tame, thus making it always clear which one was being brought to the fore. Brighten, as the name implies, opens up the top end of the source. This can be amazing, like on dead-sounding percussion or mushy vocal parts, but it's also one of those adjustments one needs to be very careful with. I found myself boosting many sources initially, and then pulling the level back as I mixed further. I also was grateful that Brighten could go into the negative and reduce high end when Recover opened up a little too much top on certain sources. The fifth control, Boost, isn't just the simple makeup gain that I first suspected (the plug-in automatically controls gain to match output to input) but a sort of Fletcher-Munson-based loudness contour addition that can help the sound source survive low level listening or such. I messed with it but never found it necessary for the work I was doing. There are also frequency slider bars, to left and right on the graphical EQ representation, that allow you to focus Gullfoss on a selected frequency range only. This is smart. It allowed me to set up a very gentle version of de-essing, and to rein in bass guitar low end without affecting the attack. A cool feature, but one that I did not know existed without some feedback from Soundtheory.
So, I may be skeptical, like I mentioned above, but even after half an hour of using Gullfoss I was sold. I believe that Gullfoss' creator, Andreas Tell, invented this EQ to use on stereo mixes and such, but because I didn't know better I started out right away popping it on individual tracks of a record I was mixing that had been somewhat ineffectively tracked. The vocals always sounded a bit too close to the mic as well as smeared in the top end, but with a light amount of Recover the highs opened up, and Tame pulled back the honk and burliness of the bottom end when it appeared. Percussion sources on this album were sometimes recorded on the harsher side, and hand drums went from awkward thuds to the sound of hands on skins. Directly recorded bass tracks were able to be Tamed of dominant tones easily too. By this time, I had improved elements of the mix with Gullfoss and was feeling good, so I tried it on the mix bus. Oh. Now I was wondering if I'd ventured into the psychoacoustic hell of Sonic Maximizers and was fooling myself. With the bus EQ reducing further dominant artifacts and opening up hidden details on the whole mix, my job had just gotten easier. In the end, all these mixes used a fair amount of Gullfoss and so did my following projects. Never has a plug-in entered my workflow as quickly and permanently as Gullfoss.
Are there downsides? Not much. I was confused as to why there were no presets included. It seems to me some moderately set ones could be good during the initial learning curve. I quickly created my own presets to use settings I liked on different songs for this album mix session, and the presets carried on to the next projects I was mixing. Also, it now works in Windows and Mac OS, in the AU, VST, and AAX plug-in formats. But man, it's good, it works, and the reasons behind that make sense. Gullfoss is one of the reasons plug-ins exist, for me, and is a promising glimpse into the future of audio.